In March 2020, our lives were changed forever when the pandemic hit us. In the first few months of dealing with the virus, most of us had to change our habits and routines. With employees leaving the office and working from home, their needs and desires have changed.
In this new environment, employers have had to change their service offerings and approach employee learning and development in new ways. Current market trends show that companies are adapting to the changes as the L&D industry is expected to grow at nearly 9% annually and is valued in excess of $46 billion.
To discuss the reasons for this growth, how a customer’s needs have changed and learn more about Colltrain, we sat down with Marian Stirbescu, CEO of the platform. He is an industry professional with approximately 20 years of experience developing companies that provide learning and development solutions.
When and how did the idea for Colltrain come about?
Marian Stirbescu: Before the pandemic, we were flirting with the idea of online training and wondering how we could transform face-to-face training, motivated by opportunities to offer remote LIVE training across Europe and in the UK.
At that time (2018-2019) there were already companies using Skype and Cisco Webex as a method to organize product or process meetings and training. Companies using digital technologies have investigated the availability of external training providers to help them deliver a range of courses.
We (at Axioma Solutions) have been exploring the possibility of investing in the development of e-learning programs. This approach allows participants to learn at their own pace. This meant that I and my team needed to develop skills in creating video materials, animations and custom activities. It also meant we were ready to transition our premium classroom format to consume video footage. The cost per participant could be 5 to 10 times lower than the value of the services provided in the classroom/conference room.
We came up with the idea that this could be the future: investment in e-learning materials and in some cases fairly limited or even ZERO physical interaction with learners. In March 2020, 30 contractual units were canceled or postponed in our training company, as in many other training companies, due to social distancing. That’s when we thought it was time to find a training solution that was as close as possible to the one in the classroom.
Can you tell us more about the different phases of the development of the platform?
Marian Stirbescu: The development of the Colltrain took some time and much of it was devoted to refining functionalities and adding additional features. First we started using Zoom for video presentations and team meetings. That was a revelation for us! We later introduced iPads as a replacement for flipcharts in brainstorming sessions.
As soon as we started delivering the first courses, we received the first feedback from users. Based on that, we realized that we lacked the fun features of those in real-life gatherings – a Scrabble or Lego set, playing cards, a puzzle. So we had to introduce different aspects of entertainment.
The next step in developing the delivery method was to convert a participant’s notebook into an online collaborative format using Google Docs/Microsoft 365. This helped us a lot with the individual activities. But we still had issues with team activities – we had a lack of control over how the activity was conducted.
On April 2nd, 2022 we rolled out the new features that I have used in my training courses and that fit the needs of our customers. It was a series of letters, similar to Scrabble, an activity that allowed you to combine multiple decks of playing cards and a flipchart app to simulate working with sticky notes.
Alexandru Cojocaru, Colltrain’s Technical Development Lead, was the person on our team who led the process and played a key role in bringing the MVP to life. In order to get the product built, we received direct feedback from users.
Some even stated that they prefer the online experience to being in a conference room. Since then, we’ve averaged 4.8 points on a scale of 1 to 5 in our training.
How much did your company initially invest in this initiative?
Marian Stirbescu: The initial investment was time and continued effort. To later make the solution available to those who need it, I have invested approximately 202,000 euros from my personal funds (until June 2022). But now anyone interested in Colltrain can use it for free with a Google account. More powerful features are certainly available with paid subscription plans.
Marian, can you explain to us in a few words how Colltrain works?
Marian Stirbescu: Colltrain is a collaborative training platform that makes the process of delivery and distance learning easy – no hassle, no fuss. I say this with confidence as we have tested it ourselves in hundreds of training sessions in different situations and on different training topics, from technical skills to soft skills training.
Participants can access the platform by following a link sent by the trainer/facilitator in the chat window of the video conferencing application (Zoom, MS Teams, Google Meet). It is not necessary to create an account and provide participant data.
Once on the platform, they can complete this activity along with their teammates while moving objects around the board with the other teammates. In this way, the level of participation of the participants increases significantly, since we no longer speak of only one colleague being responsible for filling in or moving the objects.
Trainers and Moderators access the platform by activating one of the Colltrain plans on their account. They can perform activities from the extensive Colltrain activity library, create their own, or convert the activities they have already performed in the classroom. If they are part of a team of trainers/moderators, they have the opportunity to share their activities with other team members and benefit from using proven ones.
How was the pandemic time for Colltrain and the training market in general?
Marian Stirbescu: The pandemic period has been favorable for testing, developing and maturing the platform. More than 100 trainers from Europe have started using the platform. Currently, the number of trainers using Colltrain to deliver distance training has surpassed 230.
Speaking of traditional classroom instruction, various companies have reported a 50-80% drop from their normal volume. We are aware of a number of cases in which some training companies have completely shut down their business activities and their employees (trainers and moderators) have been forced to switch to coaching or consulting. For those who had learned the remote delivery method through dedicated training platforms, the pandemic had the opposite effect, seeing a 15-20% increase or, in some cases, a doubling in activity volume.
What are the key changes that the pandemic has brought to exercise programs and how have exercise programs evolved over the two years of the pandemic?
Marian Stirbescu: There are several angles from which we can analyze this situation. On the corporate side, they realized that by implementing online courses, they could offer courses to more employees at the same cost as offline courses. The online environment eliminates the costs previously expended on conference room rental, transportation and printed materials. Online training can be organized much more quickly without disrupting normal business activities.
Participants could also enjoy unforgettable team learning experiences in the online environment. Some of them had access to courses that they would otherwise not be able to attend for financial or logistical reasons.
What have been the most requested training programs during the pandemic? And why?
Marian Stirbescu: The pandemic accelerated trends that were already happening before. We have seen a growing interest in technical courses (e.g. Excel, Power BI), Agile and certification courses, leadership and sales. The growing interest in them comes naturally as most companies continue their digitization initiatives.
What are your plans with Colltrain for the near future?
Marian Stirbescu: We want to continue our growth and have set ourselves the goal of developing collaborative training tools that are second to none. A variety of experiential activities used in the classroom have already been converted or have specific functionality to convert them to Colltrain.
Another aspect we are focusing on is expanding our capabilities and covering all relevant scenarios to serve a global audience. We intend to expand the range of master activities such as word search and puzzle generators. This allows trainers to develop a relevant icebreaker or summary activity with just two clicks.